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Egyptian army foils bomb attack near Coptic church

The Egyptian army has reportedly foiled a bomb attack apparently timed to coincide with the Christmas celebrations of minority Copts. The exact target of militants, suspected to be Islamists, was not apparent.

Coptic priest Rene Myard aka father Daniel poses with a coptic cross (Photo JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images)

Koptische Kirche Kreuz

Troops discovered the explosives-laden Toyota in the border town of Rafah early on Monday as the minority Christian community prepared to celebrate.

"Army units foiled an attack against the Rafah church at 1a.m. [local time] and seized a car packed with explosives and weapons near the church," the official news agency said.

While officials said it was not immediately clear who might have planned the attack, one security source said it was likely to have been "radical Islamists whom security forces have been tracking for months."

The MENA news agency said the likely target was the Christian church in the Sinai town, although this was downplayed by security sources, who said the building had been abandoned for almost two years. The church was set alight after the toppling of Egypt's former leader, Hosni Mubarak.

Instead, security sources claimed the attack might have been aimed at a military camp under construction close to the church.

Discrimination and danger

Egypt's Copts comprise between six and 10 percent of the country's population of 83 million and have been the target of numerous sectarian attacks. On January 1, 2011, 23 people were killed in an attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria. Copts also complain that they are marginalized and discriminated against, many having fled Rafah following threats from Islamists.

In a sermon late on Sunday, Coptic Pope Tawadros - elected to the position in November - said that Egypt's security was of vital importance to the community.

"Egypt is always in our prayers. We do not just pray for the land, we pray for the people," he said in a Christmas Eve mass.

Tawadros replaced Shenouda III, who died in March after four decades at the head of the Middle East's largest Christian community. Orthodox Copts celebrate Christmas two weeks after other Christian communities, adhering to the original Julian calendar instead of the modern, more widely-used Gregorian.

rc/hc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)